THERE is only one absolute Truth and only one Religion; but there are various systems, religious each seeking to give outward expressions to divine Truth by means of symbols, allegories and ceremonies.
These symbols are not artificially invented or concocted; but as every product of nature, and every natural language, is the ultimate outcome and manifestation of the indwelling Spirit, which it is intended to represent, it may be supposed that we should find a similarity of symbols in the different religious systems, or that at least these symbols should express the same truths or show how that truth was conceived by the different people who, in the course of their evolution, came to adopt them.
Thus, for instance, the Parsis regard Fire as the holiest symbol of Divinity. What more appropriate symbol could they have chosen, to represent the power and magnificence of the Godhead than Fire? From Fire comes the manifestation of light, life and love in the universe; and, moreover, for the enlightened, symbolizes the divine spiritual fire in the body of man, by the action of which the luminous solar body of the regenerated is born. Among the Hindus we find a great variety of symbols, representing spiritual powers and forces of nature; and each appears so very appropriate to the principle which it represents that it would be difficult to replace it by another one.
In Christian symbology the descent of the Logos is symbolised by a luminous radiating globe, and the Gandharvas or celestial harmonies by angels and cherubims surrounding the same.Note
The incarnation of the Logos is represented in the Christian religious system by the figure of Jesus the Christ, whose history, even if the account in the Bible Is not based upon actual occurrences in the phenomenal world, is at all events a true representation of the spiritual, psychical and physical processes taking place during Initiation. Jesus, the Divinity, "the Christ," having become incarnated in a human body is something more than what the 'liberal protestants' try to make of Him; He is our own Higher Self, the God or Spirit, whose habitation and temple we are II Corinthians, iii. 16) and with whom we may become united by means of spiritual regeneration or Initiation.
In the ceremony of the Catholic Mass the process of this regeneration is represented--although the clergyman celebrating the Mass is not likely to know the real meaning of it, because the conventional theologians look only at the external aspect of such things, and the mysteries of the inner life are to them a closed book of which they know only the cover.
It is perhaps unnecessary to enter into a detailed description of this ceremony and of the symbols used, as they may be witnessed by anyone going to a Catholic church. There is the altar, representing the body; the sanctuary, the heart; there is the picture of the divine Man crucified; there are the lighted candles, symbolising different states of consciousness. The host is sacrificed, the crucified Jesus represents the higher self, the officiating priest the lower self, and the terrestrial man becomes transformed into the celestial man, not by reading in a book, and not by any science or theory, but by swallowing the host, which means taking within himself the celestial nutriment necessary for the growth and expansion of the soul. Thus this ceremony is a fancied representation on the external plane, of what in reality ought to take place within.
But it seems that this ceremony of celebrating the Mass is not the exclusive property of the Catholic church, but may have been delivered over to it by the northern Buddhists; for in a picture discovered in Italy there is a representation of the same ceremony as practiced in a Chinese Buddhist temple.
There is the same altar and the same priest, offering the same host in the shape of a wafer; but instead of a crucified Christ there is the image of Buddha in superhuman size, indicating that the divine Man, the higher self is incomparably greater than the mortal man of flesh. There are the pictures of two disciples (instead of Catholic saints); the officiating .priests wear clothes similar to the Catholic clergymen; there is the servant attending, and while in the Catholic church the phases of the ceremony are indicated by ringing a little bell, there these signs are given by beating a drum. The Buddhist monk has his whole head shaven, while the Catholic priest has only a round spot shaven at the top of his head. Many more similarities between the customs of the two churches might be pointed out, but they have already sufficiently been mentioned by others for instance in the account of travels in Tibet by Abbe Huc.
It may, however, not be out of place to say that an enlightened Buddhist does not any more worship an historical Buddha, than an enlightened Christian an historical Christ. The latter sees the personality which appeared as Jesus of Nazareth a personification of Christ; he venerates that image accordingly, but only worships the Christ. Likewise the enlightened Buddhist venerates the image of Buddha. He beholds in the historical Gautama Buddha an incarnation of his own higher self, the knowledge of which he may attain, if he follows the footsteps on the path taught by that great Teacher, Gautama Buddha. Jesus (as the story goes) became initiated by being "baptised" in the wilderness by the holy Spirit descending from above, and Gautama Siddharta became initiated as a Buddha by being "baptised" and initiated by the Spirit of the same God descending upon him while he rested under the "Tree of Divine Wisdom". The "baptising" in both cases means the entering into the highest state of consciousness and self-knowledge by being illumined by the light of Divine Truth.